How to get the most from emergency childcare spend

Forward-thinking employers know that the issue of childcare can be a headache for staff as they struggle to combine the demands of work and family life, especially when their usual childcare cover breaks down unexpectedly.

If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Employers should carry out research to ascertain what percentage of employees will use emergency childcare and calculate the time and money they can save staff by offering an in-house scheme.
  • The scheme should be communicated properly and made as accessible to employees as possible.
  • Employers could offer emergency childcare options ranging from a nanny service or crèche to a local nursery.
  • Emergency childcare should be offered as part of an overall family-friendly approach rather than as a standalone initiative.

Any sort of childcare support can be a much-valued benefit and a strong staff retention tool. But how can employers ensure that their emergency childcare scheme meets their employees’ needs and requirements, while getting a decent return on their childcare investment?

Sara Turner, head of employee benefits at professional services organisation KPMG, says employers must carry out research from the outset. “When it comes to creating a business case, it’s important to show the impact of emergency childcare by estimating usage and calculating the time and resources saved by providing the service to support employees,” she says.

“In terms of the costs involved, it is very important as a business to articulate clearly, in a policy, when the service can be used and when it can’t.  Costs can quickly spiral if there are no limits or controls.”

Ben Black, director at consultant My Family Care, says a good emergency childcare scheme can boost employee wellbeing, productivity and engagement, but employers must make sure they promote it properly.

“Emergency childcare is amazing,” he says. “Employees tend to love and appreciate it. But you have to make sure it isn’t a secret scheme hidden away and not talked about.”

An employer’s intranet, newsletters, email announcements, roadshows and webinars can all be effective ways to spread the word.

Range of options

It is also important to provide a range of accessible options, including a nanny, crèche or workplace nursery. Black adds: “Parents will nearly all say childcare is complicated and childcare breakdowns are stressful. But they will all have different and strongly held opinions about what is the right backup solution.

“For some people, a nanny is the only solution, while others will want the security of a nursery. And then it won’t be any nursery; it will be a specific nursery that is known and local. So unless employers provide a wide range of solutions, usage will be painfully low.”

Once an employer has a programme in place, it must establish what it will and will not offer employees. Richard Milligan, relationship manager at provider Computershare Voucher Services, says: “Clarity is the most important factor. The scheme parameters need to be laid down very clearly.

“If it is employer-funded, how many free sessions of care are staff entitled to each year? What options are available if an employee needs to exceed that? Questions like this have to be answered up front to make the scheme accessible to the workforce.”

Targeting specific groups of staff can also be beneficial, says Milligan. “Maternity leavers and re-joiners are the key demographic on whom the bulk of the money will be spent.”

Family-friendly policies

Jill Rutter, head of policy and research at the Family and Childcare Trust, says employers’ emergency childcare spend should be part of a wider range of family-friendly work practices. “Employers should think about flexible working at the same time as emergency childcare, because sometimes home working or flexible hours is more appropriate than hiring someone through an agency to care for children,” she says. 

So although emergency childcare is a highly valued benefit, employers must keep an eye on costs and set out what exactly a programme does and does not include to ensure it remains financially viable. KPMG’s Turner says: “Costs per head should be reviewed monthly and any queries sorted at that time.”

In creating a business case for emergency childcare, it is important to show its impact by estimating usage and calculating the time and resources saved by providing the service.

Statistics

9% of employers offer emergency childcare as a core benefit, according to The Benefits Research 2013, published by Employee Benefits in April 2013.

81% of respondents to Findababysitter.com’s online survey in September 2013 said that childcare costs are preventing them from returning to work.

36% of employers would consider scrapping their childcare voucher scheme before government changes come into effect in 2015, according to research published in June 2013 by Jelf Employee Benefits.

Case study: BNP Paribas enhances benefits package with emergency childcare

BNP Paribas

French bank BNP Paribas offers a comprehensive emergency childcare scheme to all its 3,500 staff, most of whom work in London. The scheme covers any sort of disruption to normal childcare arrangements and employees have access to up to 10 days of care each year, booked a maximum of two weeks in advance.  All costs are met by the employer, including any tax charges. 

The scheme, which includes nurseries, play schemes and in-home care, was introduced in 2011 and has proved very popular, says BNP Paribas benefits manager Thomas Hiles. “We see it as an extremely valuable addition to our benefits package and an acknowledgement of the changing world we live in, with escalating childcare costs, the need to balance family and work life and remain active in the job market,” he says.

Hiles believes that, when it comes to establishing a return on investment in emergency childcare, there is a strong argument for minimising disruption to the business and preventing time out of the office. “It should be positioned as an ‘emergency’ benefit rather than an expenses scheme and should always offer quality support in finding appropriate care and help employees and their families through a difficult time,” he says.

Case study: Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust offers workplace nurseries

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH) runs an emergency childcare scheme as part of its general childcare provision. The trust operates two nurseries for its main sites in Brighton and Haywards Heath. These operate 10 hours a day, five days a week, covering early starts and late finishes.

The nurseries offer long-term childcare, but also provide short-term emergency cover for incidents such as a breakdown in an employee’s local childcare arrangements, severe weather conditions, and for new starters who have yet to make permanent childcare arrangements.

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Nursery fees are directly proportionate to an employee’s salary band, so the less an employee earns, the less they pay. The trust has published a matrix so staff can work out what fee they will pay.

Graham White, HR director at BSUH, says childcare provision is one of the trust’s most popular benefits. “Our nurseries remain almost perpetually full,” he says. “Many staff even keep links to the nurseries after their children have grown up.”